Friday, July 29, 2005

"Stupid is as stupid does" - Forrest Gump

This story appeared last Saturday in the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette:

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

The family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq is furious with Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll for showing up uninvited at his funeral this week, handing out her business card and then saying "our government" is against the war.

Catherine Baker Knoll
Rhonda Goodrich of Indiana, Pa., said yesterday that a funeral was held Tuesday at a church in Carnegie for her brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, 32.

She said he "died bravely and courageously in Iraq on July 10, serving his country."

In a phone interview, Goodrich said the funeral service was packed with people "who wanted to tell his family how Joe had impacted their lives."

Then, suddenly, "one uninvited guest made an appearance, Catherine Baker Knoll."

She sat down next to a Goodrich family member and, during the distribution of communion, said, "Who are you?" Then she handed the family member one of her business cards, which Goodrich said she still has.

"Knoll felt this was an appropriate time to campaign and impose her will on us," Goodrich said. "I am amazed and disgusted Knoll finds a Marine funeral a prime place to campaign."

Goodrich said she is positive that Knoll was not invited to the funeral, which was jammed with Marines in dress uniform and police officers, because the fallen Marine had been a policeman in McKeesport and Indiana County.

"Our family deserves an apology," Rhonda Goodrich said. "Here you have a soldier who was killed -- dying for his country -- in a church full of grieving family members and she shows up uninvited. It made a mockery of Joey's death."

What really upset the family, Goodrich said, is that Knoll said, 'I want you to know our government is against this war,' " Goodrich said.

She said she is going to seek an answer from Gov. Ed Rendell's administration if it opposes the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Knoll was traveling yesterday, away from the Capitol, and couldn't be reached. But an aide said she "extends condolences to all families who have lost loved ones" serving in the military.

Without having talked to her, the aide, who asked not to be named, said, "The family members of fallen soldiers are in our hearts and prayers. Our prayers go out to their loved ones in their hour of grief."

Asked to comment on Goodrich's complaints about Knoll's conduct at the funeral, the aide said that "would be inappropriate."

On Monday, Baker's office released this letter as a form of damage control:

Dear Mrs. Goodrich,

I am writing to further apologize and clarify what happened at the funeral of your beloved husband, Joseph. As a wife and mother, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to lose your spouse so suddenly. As an adored member of your family and one of Pennsylvania’s sons serving with soldiers from across the commonwealth, SSGT Joseph Goodrich, is one of this nation’s heroes.

As I said in my phone message to Rhonda, after I learned through press reports that your family was offended by my attendance, I was incredibly upset. I wanted to assure you once again that my intention was not to add to what must be a tremendously, heartbreaking, difficult period.

The war on terror is an immensely personal conflict for the thousands of people whose families continue to serve with honor, and I have attended dozens of funerals to offer my sympathy and condolences to the families of soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

My heart and prayers are with your family, and to the families of all the men and women serving the cause of freedom in the fight against terror. I unfortunately, did not arrive at the church services for SSGT Goodrich’s funeral in time to offer my personal condolences to you. As I also mentioned on Rhonda’s phone message, as I do with many Pennsylvanians I meet, I offered my business card so she could contact me, and as a sign of my willingness to help the family through this difficult time in any way I can. To do anything that was deemed insensitive was completely counter to my intent.

Sergeant Goodrich’s service was beyond the call of duty. If my regard for his family’s grief was seen another way, it is thoroughly regrettable. The fact that you have been offended deserves and receives my most profound apology.

I will continue to support our troops in my role as Lt. Governor and support our President as an American. That I somehow conveyed an impression that was interpreted as other than that will forever be saddening and upsetting to me.

Again, please accept my heartfelt apology and deepest sympathy.


Catherine Baker Knoll
Lieutenant Governor

Thursday, July 28, 2005

What's on your mind, Ruthie?

Ever wonder what your dog is thinking? Or if he/she is thinking?
I've watched enough episodes of The Dog Whisperer to recognize how often people mistakenly assume their dog has human intelligence, so I don't have any illusions about Ruthie the Wonder Dog delving into higher mathematics or arcane philosophy.
But there is an unmistakable intelligence and a discernible thought process going on in her furry little head.
I've heard it said that a really smart dog is about as intelligent as a 2-year-old child. Maybe so. I do know that Ruthie is the smartest dog I've ever owned, or who has ever owned me.
I was reminded of the fact that she has thoughts about 4 a.m. today when Maria and I awoke to the sounds of her growling and whining in her sleep, apparently in the middle of a rather intense dream. Ruthie rarely sleeps alone. If she isn't on our bedroom carpet, she's in one of the kids' rooms at night.
I can't help wondering what memories and images are running through her mind in moments like that. Is she chasing cats? Rabbits?
When we went to the animal shelter to pick out a dog seven years ago, I took along my laser pointer. I was looking for an alert, responsive dog who took an interest in the little red laser dot. It was my little pocket dog intelligence tester, which may or may not have had any scientific validity.
Ruthie was the only dog in the bunch to show any interest in the laser dot and she went bonkers over it. She also behaved as if she recognized us immediately as her family, almost as if she'd been waiting patiently for us to show up and take her home.
We know nothing of her previous life. The shelter people guessed she was about three or four months old and said she'd been picked up as a stray. More likely, she had run away from her original home, got lost and was picked up by the dog catcher.
At any rate, the laser became her favorite toy.
I can stand on the deck behind our house at night and run her all over the yard in pursuit of the red dot. She'll chase it in tight circles until she gets wobbly from dizziness. She'll chase it up and down stairs until she's ready to drop.
She knows the click of the laser pen clip and will come running from the farthest corners of the house when she hears it. To my ears, it's indistinguishable from any other pen clip, but she knows the difference and ignores all of the others.
She also knows the word "laser." When she hears it, she starts looking around on the floor for the dot.
And while she loves retrieving tennis balls, her next favorite toy is a colorful rubber mallard we bought her for Christmas 2003. It's outlasted every other dog toy we've given her.
We used to give her stuffed dog toys, but she got so good at eviscerating them that she could have the living room floor covered with stuffing 15 minutes after she got her paws and teeth on one of them.
And, of course, she associates it with the word "duck."
One morning recently, Maria was recounting a phone conversation one of her coworkers had in which the newly married young reporter told the apparently disbelieving interviewee that her new surname is, "Dick. Dick! Dick!"
Moments later, Ruthie jumped up on the bed with her duck in her mouth, ready for a game of "pull the duck" or "retrieve the duck."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Empty Nest: Three weeks and counting

Maria's daughter goes back to college Aug. 17.
Her son went to live with his father at the end of May.
For the first time in our married life (since May 15, 2001), we will have the house entirely to ourselves.
It will be truly liberating to be able to make plans that include nobody but us. No obligation to accommodate or entertain kids.
Of course, we can't have complete privacy because Maria's mother retired earlier this year and, since we only live about 10 blocks from her, she likes to pop in unannounced. I can't tell you how many times we've been on the verge of intimacy when we heard her car tires crunching down our gravel driveway.
She calls at least once a day, usually to talk to her granddaughter, but often to chat with Maria and sometimes even with me. Now you know why we got Caller ID recently.
If we don't get out of the house early on weekends we can count on calls from my mother-in-law and both of Maria's brothers.
So you see, "empty nest" and "privacy" are relative terms.
Maria comes from a long line of big, close families. Her mother comes from a huge family of Italian immigrants and has the equivalent of an army battalion of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Maria is the oldest of three kids and they were pretty close growing up in sometimes difficult circumstances so they have a need to keep in touch - at least through Maria. The two brothers - one Amish, the other Kerry Democrat liberal Unitarian - have wildly divergent ideas on citizenship, responsibility and parenting and it often falls to Maria to be the family diplomat, smoothing ruffled feathers over real or imagined affronts.
I, on the other hand, was an only child. All four of my grandparents were dead by the time I was 5 and none of my aunts, uncles or cousins lived in the same town with us. I saw some of them separately maybe every six weeks or so and most of them at the annual family reunion.
For me, "family" meant my parents and me. And after I went off to college and later got married and lived 60 miles from them, I could go months without seeing them and not feel any pangs of separation.
So all of this extended family stuff has taken a little getting used to.
My biggest fear is that Maria will try to fill up our newfound "alone" time with extended family stuff when my idea of quality time is the two of us taking a weekend trip on the motorcycle or in the car. Alone. With the cell phones turned off.
This is actually the second time I've achieved empty nest status.
My first wife and I had reached that point with our two sons when the wheels came off of our marriage. That made for a really empty nest, with all the attendant advantages and disadvantages.
I'm looking forward to doing it right this time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Worth 1k words...

Let me start out by saying my ex-wife is a genuinely good person.
We were married 26 years and I accept at least half of the blame for the relationship being derailed - actually, I'll be magnanimous and claim more than half of the blame.
Nevertheless, most people who know her will acknowledge that she's wrapped a little tight.
Her present husband Bill, likewise, is a genuinely nice guy. He and I get along fine and I think the two of them are happy and well-matched.
But he can be a party animal.
Last September, when our eldest son got married, the ceremony was followed with a beautifully planned and executed reception. It was a joyous occasion and the libations flowed freely.
At one point in the proceedings, Bill and the bride's stepmother - an elegant, lithe, arty woman from New England - got caught up in a wild dancing frenzy.
Maria and I were the designated photographers and one of us - I don't recall who - shot this photo of Bill and the stepmom cavorting while my ex looks askance.
I know that look. It's the one she used to give me when I crossed over the line of decorum, usually while under the influence of alcohol.
I think it's a wonderful photo, reminiscent of the style of the legendary crime photographer Weegee. Or maybe even the great Henri Cartier Bresson, master of the "decisive moment."
I'd think it was a terrific picture, even if I didn't know the people or the story behind it.
Any comments?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Nigerian scam

I must get a dozen or more spam e-mails a week from dirtbags trying to perpetrate the Nigerian scam on me, or some variation of it involving China or another country.
In the past, the sender has pretended to be a government or bank official or even a missionary, but today's collection of spam included one from exiled dictator Charles Taylor himself:
From: Charles Taylor

I am CHARLES TAYLOR, As you may be aware that I have
been granted asylum by President Olusegun Obasanjo
(GCFR) and we are presently living in the Government
House,calabar,Where I am granted refuge by President
Olusegun Obasanjo.And be informed that I am not
granted movement. And all by foreign accounts and
properties were confiscated and seized by the present
Liberian Government. Please I have what I will call my
family last hope money of $ 12,000,000M (TWELVE
MILLION US DOLLARS)which I deposited with the Nigeria
Deposit Insurance Company(NDIC) .I deposited this fund
in a one trunk box as personal savings.And the
deposits Insurance Company do not know the content of
this box as money. I hereby ask you to apply for the
delivery of this to your contact address, if you will
promise/guarantee me that you will never divert the
content of this box(funds)after delivery to you. And
that you shall invest this money for our mutual
benefits. There is no risk involve in this
transaction, hence this deposit Insurance Company
delivers consignments directly to door-steps upon
application.Finally, as you are replying this message,
make sure
you reconfirm your telephone and fax number, and your
E-mail if available. And please you ensure you keep
this transaction top secret for security reasons. Be
rest assured that I shall forward to you all the
relevant documents given to me by the Nigeria Deposit
Insurance Company (NDIC).Again, you should apply for
the delivery of this box directly to your doorstep by
the deposit insurance company on:Contact company:
Nigeria Deposit Insurance Company
Regards and God bless you and your family.
Charles Taylor.

Sure Chuck, I'll get right on that.

Just another Saturday night

My stepdaughter is a brilliant student. She spent her junior and senior years of high school at a state-run boarding school for high-achievers and excelled in classes that were many times more challenging than the offerings at her home high school.
Now, she’s about to start her junior year at a Big Ten university where she is consistently on the dean’s list and on track for a highly specialized business major.
But she makes really dumb choices in relationships.
I’ve written a lot here about how my wife’s divorce impacted her kids. They were handling things fairly well early in the divorce, but when their father remarried and adopted his new wife’s three feral children, he let his new wife bully him into turning his back on his own kids.
The boy went through a very angry period and gave up on school. The girl took the opposite tack and strove for perfection in everything she did.
In the last couple of years, the boy has reconciled with his father – despite the fact that the relationship is littered with broken promises – and moved in with his dad after graduating from high school in May.
The girl has made attempts at reconciliation, but her dad insists that she “accept” his new wife and adopted children and has only seen her once – one-on-one - outside the presence of his new family since he remarried. He even barred her from coming to their house last Christmas because of her “attitude.” My recollection is that he didn’t get her anything for Christmas or for her birthday.
Great parenting, huh?
So, given that we look for partners who fit the template of our opposite sex parent, it should be no surprise that her taste in boys runs to stupid and emotionally unavailable.

The current creep’s credentials include:
Semi-professional skateboarder
No college plans
Plays in a band that is “very close” to a recording deal
Works as a gardener (previously worked in a pizza joint)

In addition to that, he has told her he could never really love her, makes fun of her appearance, refuses to repay money he owes her, lies to her about seeing other girls and last, but not least, gave her an STD (human papillovirus or HPV).
In her more lucid moments, she declares she’s done with him. Then he calls and draws her back into their idiotic little dance.
He called at 8:47 p.m. Saturday (we have caller ID that records call times) and a few minutes later she announced she was going out. Maria and I both knew it was he who called and Maria went into protective parent mode.
By the time the idiot boyfriend’s broken-muffler van rumbled into our driveway, Maria had informed her daughter that if she went out with the creep, she had better pack a bag and surrender her house key because she no longer lived in this house.
Then Maria strode up to the driver’s window of the van, fixed the smirking shirtless boy with her sternest look and told him that if he took her daughter, he’d better be prepared to take care of her from now on because she wouldn’t have a home here.
When it became apparent that he wasn’t prepared to accept the challenge, Maria grabbed the garden hose and ordered him off the property, shooting a short burst of water in his direction.
He squealed, “Don’t squirt me!” like a girl, started cranking up his window and backed out of the driveway.
I stood behind her in full view of the creep, trying to look a menacing as possible, short of strapping on my .45 automatic, and wondering what karmic mechanism was bringing all of this drama into my life.
I expected angry hysterics from the girl after the creep left, but she actually seemed a bit relieved.
“I’ve never seen you like that,” she told Maria, obviously impressed with her mother’s determination to protect her from further emotional abuse.
I think she had gotten herself into a situation that she didn’t know how to get out of and was relieved that Maria intervened and sent the boy packing.
Knowing what I do about the shifting sands of consciousness and a person’s tendency to lose their resolve, I expect the girl will slip back into this guy’s orbit again, but at least she now knows her mother and I are willing to take a stand to protect her.
We shall see.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

So much for rallying in Hell

I spent about 28 hours at the 33rd annual BMW Motorcycle Owners of America rally this week in Lima, Ohio.
I arrived a little after noon on Thursday and found the campgrounds were filling up rapidly. All of the shaded spots were gone and there seemed to be little level ground left - a surprise since I had the impression that there would be abundant good camping space.
It was insanely hot. Some friends and I took refuge at the nearby Texas Roadhouse for an early dinner and lingered there for a couple of hours to rehydrate on iced tea and enjoy the air conditioning.
We got back to the campgrounds minutes before a storm front roared through. Our tents and bikes were spared, but I know of one case where a tarp sunshade went airborne and one of the aluminum poles speared through the side of a tent and an airmattress inside. Fortunately, the tent owner was over at Wal-Mart at the time - otherwise she might have been injured or perhaps even killed. Anyone using these things should give a thought to what can happen in a big blow and either strike them when they leave their site or make sure someone nearby knows to take them down if the weather turns violent.
My bike was unscathed, but the R1100S parked next to mine was blown over and sustained a shattered right mirror.
Friday started reasonably cool, but the heat was oppressive by noon and I finally threw in the sweat-soaked towel about 4 p.m., packed my stuff and rode home.
It's hard to fault the rally organizers. Under normal weather conditions, it was a completely acceptable site, albeit a little short on camping space given the turnout. But when it gets hot enough for the National Weather Service to issue a heat advisory and there are no air conditioned buildings on the grounds (at least I didn't find any), it stops being fun.

On the plus side - kudos to the Beer Garden people for giving out free O'Doul's to folks who like the taste of beer, but don't want to ride buzzed and a hats off to all of the volunteers who pitched in to help make things run more smoothly.
This was my 15th 'MOA rally since Laguna Seca in 1986. The only one I can remember that compared with this one in terms of oppressive heat was Madison, IN in '87. Yeah, it was hot at Spokane last year, but the humidity was low and there was air conditioning available.
You know it's hot when people leaving the showers are getting asked, "Is there any cold water left?"
I'm looking forward to Burlington, Vt., next year and more reasonable temperatures.
And then Fairbanks in '07.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The filename for this shot is hell.jpg. I took this picture on the midway of the Indiana State Fair in the early 1970s and I still find it disturbing. Posted by Picasa

Cadillac Ranch, an art installation west of Amarillo, Texas. The project dates from the 1970s when an art collective called the Ant Farm buried 10 Cadillacs, ranging from a 1949 Club Coupe to a 1963 Sedan, in a row. The site is a couple of hundred yards south of I-40 off of a frontage road. There is a gate in the fence and a trash barrel where passersby can deposit their spent cans of spray paint. We caught it just at sunset, hence my long shadow stretching into the shot.
 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hip, but not a hippie

I am 19% Hippie.
So Not a Hippie.
What? Am I a Republican? Why did I even bother taken this test?! I guess I’ll back to my George W. Bush fan club and tell them I just wasted 10 minutes of my life. At least I don’t stink, man.

Set the Wayback Machine for 1994...

My thoughts turn to long-distance motorcycle rides this time of year. Other business in July and August will push my 20th Annual Midlife Crisis Tour into September, if it occurs at all. In the meantime, here's the log from my 9th such sojourn in 1994:

Day 1 (Friday, Aug. 12) Held back by loose ends and details, I got on the road about 11 a.m. It was a gloomy, gray, humid yet cool day. I rode west on I-74 into Illinois, angling up toward I-80 and running into drizzle east of Galesburg. Realizing this would be a short day, I stopped in Moline to phone ahead for a reservation at the Coralville, Iowa, Motel 6. I got there at 6:15 p.m. Early on, I noticed I was meeting a lot of Harley-Davidsons, the exodus from Sturgis.

Day 2 Coralville-Fargo: My Radio Shack weather radio warned of rain to the north and I found it on I-380 near Waterloo. I followed U.S. 218 north into the bright sunshine behind the advancing cold front and stopped for a late breakfast at Mason City. Then it was north again, into Minnesota, around the west side of Minneapolis to I-94 and the last 214 miles to Fargo and the next Motel 6.

Day 3 Fargo-Forsyth, Mont.: It was a brisk 46 degrees when I rolled out of Fargo, my Gerbing electric jacket liner and electric gloves running full blast to ward off the windchill. It felt good to be on the road early with the rising sun in my mirrors. Each rise in the road brought a new vista of acres and acres of brilliant yellow sunflowers, each turned to face the sun like a little satellite dish. I stopped for breakfast at Jamestown at a no-name restaurant next to a packed Perkins. Reading the local paper, I came across a reference a town named Gackle. Gotta remember that one. Gackle, N.D. Just inside Montana, after the terrain had turned from farms to badlands to ranches, I got to feeling a little frisky and ran a full hour at 100+ mph. I topped out at an indicated speed of 135 mph, but realized the bike had more speed left. About 3 p.m. (I had picked up an hour, crossing into the Mountain Time Zone), I was confronted with the choice of stopping at Forsyth, continuing on the interstate to Billings or taking U.S. 12 west in search of lodging farther west. The manager of the Best Western Motel (where the thermometer was reading 100 degrees) settled it for me. There were no rooms in Billings because the state fair was going on and lodging was scarce along U.S. 12. I got a $45 room and bagged it for the day.
At the motel manager's suggestion, I phoned the Four Seasons Motel in Kalispell and made a reservation for the next night.

Day 4 Forsyth-Kalispell: I rode out of Forsyth at sun-up, pausing on the bridge over the Musselshell River to photograph the sunrise. A short distance on, I watched an antelope cross the road a quarter-mile ahead of me. He loitered near the fenceline, seemingly unconcerned that I was stopped and watching him. As I continued, I saw more and more wildlife - more antelope, a deer, a wild turkey scurrying up a rise just off the road. I took to honking my horn and slowing as I approached birds on roadkill. I realized that it was chancy to travel faster than 60 mph through this countrysidewith all this wildlife about. As the sun climbed higher, however, the animals disappeared. Gassing at White Sulphur Springs, I met a Gold Wing couple from Minnesota and joined them for huevos rancheros at a local cafe. They, too, were headed for Glacier and I gave them my Montana motel guide to help them nail down a room for the night. The farther west I rode, the more I noticed smoke from forest fires. West of Helena, I saw a helicopter hauling water south after scooping it up from a lake just north of the highway. I turned north and rode through forests and lakes on U.S. 83, reaching Kalispell about 5:30 p.m. I was getting worried about finding lodging in the Banff-Jasper area, since my motel directories were weak on Canada. I turned to the BMW MOA Anonymous book and found a local BMW rider who ran a hostel. A phone call for directions and I was a Jay and Linda's house north of town. They gave me a hostel directory, but I concluded privately that it was a bit too communal for my tastes. They also gave me a flyer for a bed & breakfast at Fernie, B.C.

Day 5 Kalispell-Fernie, B.C.: Smoke from forest fires made Glacier National Park a huge disappointment. The Going to The Sun Highway up and over the mountains was my first taste of mountain riding since last summer in Colorado and I found my flatlander sensibilities a little overwhelmed as I crept up and around the switchbacks. Before entering the park, I had checked at the Alberta Information Center about the prospect of lodging in the Banff-Jasper area. They gave me the 800 number of a hotel-motel room clearinghouse which guaranteed to find me a room. They did, but starting at $150. Riding over the mountains in the smoky haze, I considered blowing off the Canadian part of the trip. But, as I descended to St. Mary's at the east edge of the park, I decided to call the Fernie bed & breakfast on the chance they had room for me. A pleasant guy named Ralph answered the phone and assured me they had a room, for only $25 Canadian. I headed north, changing $100 U.S. to $133.30 Cdn. at a bank in Pincher Creek, Alberta. Barbara Lynn's Bed & Breakfast was a modest split-level house on a side street of Fernie, a little town of about 3,000 in the Canadian Rockies. My bed was comfortable, I had the use of the laundry facilities and Ralph even let me run the channel changer when we watched TV that night.

Day 6 Fernie-Valemount: Ralph, substituting for Barbara Lynn, who was off to Jasper on a bicycle tour, whipped up a filling breakfast of porridge, juice, coffee and a spectacular chocolate chip muffin. I headed west on Hwy. 3, picking up 93 east of Cranbrook. The air was smoky and I could smell the forest burning. Around Columbia, I ran into rain and lightning and struggled into my rainsuit. I gassed at Radium Hot Springs and, minutes later, had to dig out my wallet again for the $5 admission fee to ride through Kootenay National Park to get to Banff. I was dogged by rain and low clouds all day and the weather hid the mountain peaks from me, making for a cold, drizzly ride up what is normally a spectacular valley. Maybe next year. I gassed at Jasper and rode west into clear weather, finding Brenda's Bed & Breakfast right where it was supposed to be on Hwy. 5 north of Valemount. The owners, Brenda & Ken McKenzie are great people, with accents straight out of the Great White North, saying "aboot" and ending their sentences with "eh?" so much I initially wondered if they were putting me on. Brenda has a charming wink that makes you like her instantly. Ken is a quiet, friendly utility company lineman who makes you feel right at home. He split a 6-pack of locally brewed beer with me as we chatted into the night. The other guests included a young Italian couple and a German family of mom and dad and their two high school-aged daughters. The cost of $50 Cdn. was a bargain for my room in their big log house, especially with their hospitality and Brenda's sumptuous breakfast with home-baked bread and an egg souffle.

Day 7 Valemount-Seattle: At Brenda's suggestion, I stopped at a stream in Valemount to watch huge 3-foot-long coho salmon struggling upstream to spawn, some 300 miles from the sea. Once on the road south, I was passed about 10 miles south of town by a guy on a white BMW R100RS with an Alberta plate following a Mazda pickup at speeds up to 100 mph. I fell in with them and knocked off a quick 80 miles. The BMW rider pulled off with a couple of Gold Wing riders and I followed the Mazda another 10-15 miles before dropping back to a more legal speed. I reached Kamloops about 1 p.m., took a break and jumped back onto the Coquihalla Highway ($5 Cdn. tollroad). I hooked up with a Gold Wing for the last 20 miles or so to Hope. I phoned AOL friend Jackie Dempere in Seattle and told her I'd be at her house in 2-3 hours. I crossed the border at Sumas, getting a friendly "Welcome home" from the border guard, and picked up I-5 at Bellingham. Seattle was gorgeous at sunset and the traffic was easier than I'd expected. I rode straight to Jackie's place in Tukwila on the south side of Seattle.

Day 8 Seattle-Portland: Jackie gave me a tour of Seattle in the morning, including a quick visit to Buckingham BMW and lunch down at the harbor at Ivar's Clam Shop. I left her place about 2 p.m. and headed south on I-5, stopping south of Tacoma to put on my rainsuit. I got to Portland just in time for the evening rush hour and reached my son's house at 5:10 p.m.

Day 9-11 Portland with son.

Day 12 Portland-Eureka, Calif.: I was on the road at 6:45 a.m. and got in 100 miles before breakfast. I stopped at Ashland for gas and chatted with a local BMW rider as I added a quart of oil to my engine. South again on I-5 to California Hwy. 96 and 200 miles of fabulous twisties along the Klamath River to Arcata. Riding to dinner that night without earplugs, I noticed the telltale sound of a broken weld on my exhaust. Maybe it'll hold til Denver, I thought.

Day 13 Eureka-East Palo Alto: After a motel restaurant breakfast, I rode out at 8 a.m. and wound through the redwoods for about 100 miles before getting off of U.S. 101 onto Hwy. 1. But not before I paid the obligatory visit to the Drive-Through Tree. The next several hours were spent in twisties - first through alternating dark forest and bright sunlight, then along the coast in cold fog. I stopped for a bite of lunch - clam chowder that I think came from a can - and chatted with a couple on a Wing from Seattle. Back on the road through places with familiar names - Point Arena, Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Point Reyes. Up and over Mt. Tamalpais and suddenly I was back on 101 and at the north end of the Golden Gate. I followed 101 though downtown San Francisco and down to East Palo Alto where I stopped for the night at the home of another AOL friend, Giuliana Milan.

Day 14 East Palo Alto-Morro Bay: I was on the road a little after 9 a.m., stopping at San Jose BMW for a spare headlight bulb and a saddlebag lid strap. Down to Santa Cruz and past Monterey on the freeway to where it narrows down to 2 lanes at Carmel Valley Road. Here begins the finest ride of the trip. The weather was uncharacteristically clear for this time of year and I took my time as vista after spectacular vista of mountain, cliff and blue-green sea unfolded in front of me. Twenty-nine miles south of Carmel, I stopped at Nepenthe - Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth's hideway, become a restaurant and gift shop - for coffee cake and mocha. I found myself leap-frogging a Swedish couple on a rented BMW as we rode and stopped to take pictures. On the coast south of Bailey Bridge, I found a local photographer, his tripod and camera set up beside his red Porsche. This, he said, was one of the clearest days of the entire summer he said, congratulating me on my timing. Reaching Morro Bay and my Motel 6 room, I decided my exhaust noise was definitely getting worse. Since this was the one night of the week (Thursday) when BMW Motorcycles of Indianapolis was open late, I phoned my dealer and asked for advice. Archey Shearer suggested I call BMW of California at Mountain View. He also noted that my present exhaust was still under warranty and FAXed the appropriate paperwork to me at the motel. I arranged to ride back to the Bay area the next day for a replacement exhaust system. Then I went to dinner at Bob's Seafood on the waterfront and watched the sun go down behind Morro Rock in the harbor. For some odd reason, I got the special handicapped room at the motel, but I didn't have the nerve to use the parking space that went with it.

Day 15 Morro Bay-Tracy: On the road at 8 a.m., I rode up Calif. 41, through the fire-ravaged hillside to Atascadero and caught 101 north. I was at Mountain View by noon and hung out at the dealership while they replaced my exhaust system. I was dazzled to learn that one of the mechanics - Richard Sullivan - grew up 18 miles from me in Lafayette, Ind., and went to Jefferson High School with my ex-wife's younger sisters. I got back on the road at 4:30, working my way east through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. Frazzled, I went to ground at the Motel 6 at Tracy, resolving to get an early start tomorrow.

Day 16 Tracy-Salina, Utah: After a Denny's breakfast, I was off into the blinding rising sun, working my way east and south toward the Sierras. At Yosemite National Park, I was pleased to find admission was free today. I'd expected just a long ride in the woods, but two-thirds of the way through the vistas opened up. At one stop, I met Heinz Kunkel, service leader for BMW AG in Frankfurt-on-Main. He and his wife and another couple were traveling through the west in a van and he was very taken with my bike. We exchanged cards and I took a photo of him and his group with the bike. I gassed at Lee Vining and headed town Hwy. 120 to pick up U.S. 6 into Nevada. Along the way, I found the most amazing set of whoop-te-doos I've ever seen on a public highway. The sign says something about Dips for the next 5 miles or so. I found that any speed over 70 involved getting occasionally airborne. Once the road straightened out, I decided to wick it up and see how fast the bike would go. The road was perfectly straight and I had an unobstructed view for miles. With the tach needle deep in the redzone, going downhill, I maxed out at 146 mph. I marveled at the mile markers whipping past every 24 seconds or so, then backed off and cruised the rest of the way to Tonopah at 120. I gassed again at Tonopah and headed for Ely, again cruising well over the 100 mph mark, slowing only for the occasional oncoming car. My radar detector remained silent and I had a strong feeling that nobody really cared how fast I went as long as I didn't crash into anything. Intent on making Green River, Utah, I pressed on into the lowering darkness. But as I approached Salina, the sky ahead lit up with horizon-to-horizon lightning flashes and rain spattered my face shield. I stopped under a gas station canopy to don rain gear for the final 120-mile dash, but finally yielded to the voice of reason after two locals suggested I get a motel room in Salina. I registered at the local HoJo Inn, had a late dinner at the motel restaurant, bought a gas station 6-pack of beer and holed up for the night. I'd done 714 miles and now had 5,540 behind me for the entire trip.

Day 17 Salina-Breckenridge, Colo.: I'd gassed a short time before Salina, but decided to leave town with a full tank, so I topped off at the I-70 Shell station. After putting 98 cents worth in, I discovered all I had was $100 bills and my Shell credit card. I presented my card to the attendant, only to be berated for interrupting his breakfast to charge 98 cents worth of gas. Imagine what he would have done it I'd handed him a $100 bill. As I rode east through the Utah canyonlands, I was glad I'd saved this ride for the morning light. The angled light from the ascending sun brought out all of the vivid colors and rugged textures of the fantastic bluffs and buttes and towers shaped from the prehistoric seabed I was traversing. I found myself smiling at the spectacular beauty of the bizarre landscape. I stopped for gas at Green River and found myself across the pump island from Sam Meyer, a Harley rider from Princeton, Ill., who was headed southwest to the Grand Canyon. Sam suggested we have breakfast and I recommended Ben's Cafe down the street, a place I've dined on earlier trips. After a pleasant chat and a good meal, we went our separate ways. I ran into drizzle at Grand Junction, Colo. and was in my rainsuit all the way to Breckenridge. My Indianapolis BMW Club friends came to greet me when they heard me pull up outside the chalet and quickly responded to my plaintive cries of, "Beer! Beer!"

Day 18-22 Breckenridge: The weather in Breckenridge was the lousiest of any week I've spent there since 1987. I rode little, doing a little gold panning in the Arkansas River south of Leadville and making a trip to Fort Collins to replace my front tire which had become alarmingly smaller after the mad dash across Nevada. (It lasted a little less than 6,000 miles.) In the course of things, I gave Fred Lipucci, the owner of BMW Fort Collins one of the business cards for Brenda's B&B in Valemount, since he is a B&B fan and was headed for Jasper the next week.

Day 23 Breckenridge-Belleville, Kans.: I left the chalet early Saturday morning with friend Rich Nathan. We made relatively short work of Colorado and sped east into Kansas on U.S. 36. About halfway across the state, we discovered Rich's rear tire was showing cord in one spot and concluded it wouldn't go the distance. From our room in the Plaza Motel at Belleville, Rich phoned number after number in the BMW MOA Anonymous book, finally locating Larry Britton, who runs a little motorcycle accessory business in Manhattan, Kans. Larry had a Chen Shing that would fit Rich's bike and agreed to meet us at the shop at 9 a.m. the next morning. Pretty good for tracking down a tire on Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend in the middle of Kansas. We celebrated with Kansas prime rib at the best restaurant in town.

Day 24 Belleville-Altamont, Ill.: Nursing his dying Metzeler tire, Rich led south from Belleville in a light rain. We escaped the rain north of Manhattan and found Larry's shop easily. He was waiting and, in 90 minutes, we were back on the road, this time eastbound on I-70. We made Kansas City by 1 p.m. and settled into the ugly, brutal interstate drone across Missouri. Just west of St. Louis, we were overtaken by Mike Shannon on his 1985 K100RS headed home to Bloomington, Ind. Rich and Mike were acquainted, having been corner workers together at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Mike hooked up with us as I led through St. Louis and across the Mississippi to the land where radio station call letters start with Ws. About 20 miles east of St. Louis, we found rain. Gassing and getting into rainsuits at an Amoco station, we resolved to press on. I took the lead in the lowering darkness and, after 30 miles of pitch black night, truck spray, construction zones and insanely bright flashing lane arrows, I pulled into a motel at Altamont, spent. "You guys can go on if you like," I said, "but I'm stopping here. I'm too fatigued and I'm just not sharp enough to be safe out there." Rich and Mike seemed unnaturally glad to be off of the superslab too and we quickly agreed to split a $40 motel room.

Day 25 Altamont-Indianapolis: After a pleasant breakfast at the motel restaurant (Grits?!?), we donned rainsuits and headed off into the cold gray drizzle and fog that shrounded I-70. Mike broke off for Bloomington at the Cloverdale, Ind., exit and Rich and I stopped for a final break at a rest area just west of Indianapolis. The place was full of Amish men and boys in their black hats and slacks and suspenders and blue shirts. The sight of a half dozen of them lined up at the urinals in the men's room gave me the urge to reach for my camera, but I thought better of it. The little Amish kids seemed fascinated by my blaze orange rainsuit. The lobby of the rest area facilities had recently been gone over with some orange-scented cleaning product and Rich suggested the kids probably though that aroma was coming from me, the Orange Man. Back on the road, Rich and I parted company where I-70 meets I-465, with him heading south and me turning north toward Carmel. I got home a little after noon. Total mileage, right at 7,800. All in all, a damn fine way to spend 25 days.

The reluctant landlord

I hate being a landlord.
I found myself playing the role by default. After the deaths of my parents, I found myself with an extra house on my hands. I got an appraisal as part of the estate settlement process and put it on the market. The Realtor showed it to a handful of people over the six months of the listing, but there were no offers. Operating under the mistaken assumption that the Realtor was a solid citizen - after all, he grew up the small town that was my home for my first 17 years - I took him on as a property manager and turned the house into a rental property.
The ensuing nightmare is chronicled in the archives of this blog, so I'll just sum it up by saying I fired the property manager and still ended up with the tenant from hell who sued me and then fled. I won the initial suit, then countersued for lost income, had to garnish her pay and finally recovered. Now I have a responsible, sane tenant who pays her rent on time and is pretty low maintenance.
But I still have the burden of owning the extra house, paying ever-increasing property taxes on it and spending money on surprise maintenance issues. Of the $700/month I get in rent, I figure I get to keep about $500 of it after property taxes and other expenses, but that's before the IRS takes its cut.
So this week when it came time to renew the lease for another year, I mailed her a renewal contract reflecting a $50/month rent increase to cover higher property taxes, and an offer to sell her the house at the appraised value at the time of my mother's death in 2000.
I briefly explained how her house payment would be about $150/month less than her rent if she got a 30-year mortgage, plus she'd get a bunch of money back on her income tax and would be building equity.
I rather doubt that she'll take me up on the offer because she's probably intimidated by the whole idea of home ownership and mortgages and property taxes. It's often hard to get someone to think a new thought.
If she doesn't take me up on it, I may list it with a more reputable and reliable Realtor and sell it anyway.
The whole thing is more hassle than it's worth.

Monday, July 18, 2005

My fraternity brother Bill Broadstreet, with my first wife on the left and one of his girlfriends on the right. It was early 1967 and I think we were smoking pot and playing with my slide projector. Posted by Picasa

Bill Broadstreet being a ghost in front of my apartment in the spring of 1967, along with one of his girlfriends. He really is a ghost now. He died about 9 years ago after struggling for years with drugs and alcoholism. Posted by Picasa

Being an orphan has its advantages...

Larry, who lives in the big yellow farmhouse three doors south of us, is also a BMW motorcycle rider. He's my age and just retired as athletic director at the local high school.
I ran into him weekend before last and he proposed we ride together to the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America national rally this Thursday in Lima, Ohio.
While I do most of my riding solo, I occasionally enjoy some company, so I agreed, suggesting we talk closer to the day of departure to work out times and routes.
He left a voicemail this afternoon saying he can't go to the rally because of problems with his elderly parents who live about a half-hour north of here.
Been there, done that.
My dad died in '97 and mom died in 2000, but I spent a lot of my Sundays with them from around 1995 on. One of the things about being an only child is that you have no one to help you carry the burden of aging parents. The upside is that you have no one second-guessing the decisions you make about, and for, your parents.
I spent a lot of time being angry about my parents' decline. Time and advancing age were turning them into people I didn't recognize and found hard to like.
Dad spent his last couple of years in a smalltown nursing home. Even though it was fairly well-equipped and well-staffed, it was a depressing place. I remember one afternoon when my frail father looked at me with watery eyes and croaked, "Get me out of here!" It broke my heart.

He was a fragile diabetic and was confined to a wheelchair at this point and my mother, even though she had been a Registered Nurse all of her adult life, was beyond being able to care for him at home.
They were getting ready to take him to a nearby hospital to replace a feeding tube when he died in a few days before Thanksgiving, 1997. I think he decided he'd had enough medical abuse and simply checked out.
Likewise, my mother had been in an extended care facility near my home for about six months, pleading daily to go home, when she died in her sleep.
It's hell watching your parents fall apart. For most of us, it's completely uncharted territory and I count myself very lucky that I had Maria in my life to help me through it.
I hope Larry's wife Bev is the supportive type. He's going to need it.
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to four days of immersion in the BMW motorcycle culture with about 5,000 of my closest friends. A lot of my local club member friends rent motel rooms for these affairs, but I prefer to camp on the rally grounds and get the full experience.
This will be the 15th 'MOA national I've attended, starting with LaGuna Seca, California, in 1986.
Here's the list:
2004 - Spokane, WA
2003 - Charleston, WV
2002 - Trenton, Ont.
2001 - Redmond, OR
2000 - Midland, MI
1998 - Missoula, MT
1996 - Morganton, NC
1995 - Durango, CO
1993 - Oshkosh, WI
1992 - DuQuoin, IL
1991 - Flagstaff, AZ
1990 - Rapid City, SD
1988 - Madison, IN
1986 - Laguna Seca, CA
Lima is hardly a glamour destination and it's only about a four-hour ride from here, but it should be well-attended because the center of gravity of BMW MOA membership is east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
I'll hang out with friends, cruise the vendors in search of some new gadget to refine my touring kit, stare at and listen to hundreds of BMWs, knock down plenty of beer at the Biergarden and complain that the Saturday night awards ceremony is too long and heavy with self-absorbed rally organizers. Then I'll strike the tent, pack my stuff and ride home Sunday.
I might even wash my bike for the occasion. It still has some California bugs on it from last summer.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

One out of three ain't good

I just couldn't do it.
My wife bought a DVD copy of Phantom of the Opera - she and her daughter were blown away when they saw a stage performance of it some years ago - and was keen to have me watch it with her.
I lasted about halfway through it before I excused myself to go back to my Photoshop CS tutorials.
Yeah, the music sounded pretty spectacular on our Dolby 5.1 home theatre audio setup, but I just couldn't get into the sung dialogue and I couldn't make myself give a damn about any of the characters.
And the look of it reminded me of Moulin Rouge, which I absolutely detested for its incomprehensible mix of cultures and periods. Pretty movies? Yeah. But devoid of anything I think of as substance.
It was part of a three-DVD rental-purchase deal we did yesterday at Blockbuster. Besides buying Phantom, we rented National Treasure and The Ref. Nicholas Cage is one of my favorite actors, but I found my mind wandering during scenes that were supposed to be riveting action. The Ref, a relatively unnoticed comedy with Kevin Spacey, turned out to be a much better crafted, better acted movie and the only one of the three that really impressed me.
Not that anyone cares.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hello 60

When I got started in journalism in the mid-1960s, we marked the end of every story we wrote by typing -30- at the bottom of the page.
The explanation, as I learned it, is that the -30- mark was meant to tell the typesetter, i.e. Linotype or Intertype operator, that there was no more to the story. Presumably, journalists originally wrote “no more,” which got shortened to “no” and finally the cursive “n” got turned on its side to make a “3” and the “o” mutated into a zero.
At any rate, I was taught in college to end my stories with -30- and that was the practice at the small town daily where I got my start and later at the state’s largest evening daily where I spent most of my career.
But sometime in the 1970s, when we traded our typewriters for the first of the big clunky primitive computer terminals, we stopped using the -30- mark. Why? Probably because we’d become the typesetters as well as the writers, so there was no need to tell ourselves where the story ended.
So the -30- mark went away, appearing only in the occasional press release sent in by some hot-type-trained newspaperman who had sold out and taken a public relations job and still used the -30- mark out of habit.
Today I am twice 30. Does that mean “no more” is doubly true?
I remember in 1975 when I marked my first 30 years on the planet with a sense of doom and foreboding. I was pretty sure that my best years were behind me and the future held little but hard work and gradual decline.
Turns out my 30s were filled with lots of personal growth, a bunch of dumb mistakes and plenty of adventure.
So I wasn’t all that concerned in July, 1985, when my personal odometer rolled over the 40-year mark. We had a big party, the original Live Aid broadcast was going on and somebody gave me a green t-shirt with a picture of a tree on it that said, “40 isn’t old… for a tree.”
Fifty was a little more sobering, especially when I got the invitation in the mail to join AARP back before its name got shortened to the acronym for the American Association of Retired People. I resisted for a few months, but finally decided that if some businesses wanted to give me a discount just for being 50, I’d be stupid not to take it.
So I decided to embrace maturity – not old age, but maturity.
I remember sitting in a Denny’s in Salina, Kans., one summer morning when I was 54 and starting the second day of my 14th annual Midlife Crisis Motorcycle Tour. I flipped the menu over to examine the Senior Citizen selections – reduced portions at reduced prices and decided a selection from that list suited my appetite. But the threshold for the Denny’s Senior Citizen menu was 55.
So for the first time since I was a 20-year-old in a liquor store, I lied about my age and wolfed down my breakfast in the sure knowledge that the manager would appear at any moment to “card” me.
All of this is to remind me that passing these 10-year milestones is like an athlete bursting through a paper banner – there’s the momentary shock of hitting the barrier, but you’re through it before you have time to think about it and you’re still moving and everything is the same as it was before except that the barrier is now behind you.
So it is with turning 60. Other than being an occasion for a bit of reflection, it’s no big deal. I’m still me and I’m still doing all of the stuff I love to do.
Now 70 is a different matter…

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Adios, 59

With any luck at all, this will be the last time you find me whining about turning 60.
Today is my last day in my 50s.
Tomorrow – Bastille Day, 2005 – is the 60th anniversary of the first breath I drew in my current incarnation. It was a Saturday. World War II was all but over. Adolf Hitler had eaten a bullet in his Berlin bunker two months earlier and Allied troops were settling down for the occupation of Germany.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead of a stroke and Harry S. Truman was getting up to speed in Washington.
But Japan was holding out even though it was obvious to everyone that the U.S. Navy and Army Air Forces were tightening the ring of steel around their homeland and daily raining down firestorms of incendiary bombs.
On the July Saturday that I was born, J. Robert Oppenheimer supervised the hoisting of the first atomic bomb to the top of a steel tower in the New Mexico desert. Two days later, on the morning of July 16, Oppy and his crew lit up the desert with their man-made sun, giving him a vision of the Hindu god Shiva, the Destroyer of Worlds.
Yeah, it was a heavy time.
And to those of you who came in later – some of you, much later – it must seem like an impossibly long time ago.
Maybe it was.
But I find it absolutely startling how fast 60 years can get away from you. How the hell did I get to be this old this quickly? I don’t feel old. My body isn’t falling apart. I’m at the top of my game when it comes to writing and photography. Could it be that old age is an illusion? Is it really true that you’re as old as you feel? If that’s the case, I’m somewhere around 30.
I had a bit of validation that I’m not completely old and in the way this afternoon.
I got a call from a corporate headhunter who’s looking for someone to coordinate the magazine and website of an international motorcycle organization. I’ve been aware for some time that the search is on for applicants for the position. It’s been the source of no little controversy among the membership, many of whom believe the job should go to the woman who now edits the magazine and who think the very suggestion of a search for other candidates is a slap in her face.
I listened to the pitch with some interest, but took myself out of the running when the guy said it requires relocation to a city two states away.
But it’s nice to know that somebody thinks 34 years in newspapers, 10 years as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, more than 300,000 motorcycle miles and freelance publication in a whole bunch of magazines and newspapers adds up to something useful.
So I guess I’ll look forward to tomorrow and my 60th birthday with a sense of satisfaction that I’ve done more good than bad in my six decades, maybe saved a few lives, maybe enlightened and entertained and can still enjoy a good 145 mph motorcycle romp across the Nevada desert.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Smokin' a Viceroy and cruisin' down the old National Road on a sunny day in May, 1967, as seen through a fisheye lens. I think the VW had lap-style seatbelts, but shoulder belts and airbags were years in the future. So were radial tires and antilock brakes. Posted by Picasa


I posted a photo Sunday of me with my first car and now it has me awash with memories about that Fontana gray 1965 VW beetle.
I bought it for a paltry $1,600 on Aug. 1, 1965 - the day Charlie Whitman climbed the bell tower in Texas and sniped innocent passeersby until the cops got him. I remember hearing news reports of the shootings while at the dealership - University Motors in West Lafayette, Ind.
The '65 beetle was the last model year before the folks in Regensberg added an external fuel filler door and (I think) the first model year with a gas gauge. To fuel the car, I had to pop the trunk (in front) to access the fuel intake.
The car was desperately underpowered and could only top 70 mph with a strong tailwind. I added a parcel shelf under the dashboard and a snazzy wood gearshift knob - those were my only modifications, unless you count the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity decal on the windshield. I still have the gearshift knob.
The dashboard layout was spartan in the extreme: round speedometer/odometer, gas gauge and AM radio with knob switches for headlights and wipers.
The car had a pathetic heater/defroster apparatus that meant you had to bundle up for winter drives. But once you got moving, hardly anything could stop the thing. The rear engine and narrow tires made it the best snow car I've ever driven.
As it aged, it developed starting problems because moisture seemed to accumulate in the distributor cap.
The longest trip I ever made in it was through eastern Canada to Niagara Falls and on to Montreal and Quebec City.
Eventually, it succumbed to rust. By the time I let it go to a friend for $100 or so, it had more than 100,000 miles on the odometer (an impressive number in those days) and you could see the road through holes in the floor on the passenger's side.
I followed it up a few years later with a green '71 Karmann Ghia convertible that I also took to the 100k mark, but it was a completely different animal.
Would I buy a Volkswagen product today? Thank you, but no.
While I prefer German motorcycles, I like my cars from Japan.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Thirty-nine years ago this September, I began my newspaper career at The Tipton (Ind.) Tribune. I was 21. This 1965 VW was my first car. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 08, 2005

Sunrise at Monument Valley. Posted by Picasa

Launching a startled hen at the Guffey, Colo., Chicken Fly. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Down from the mountains

We're back home in the Midwestern humidity.
We rolled out of Alma, Colo. at 4:19 a.m. Tuesday and thrashed our way across Kansas and Missouri before bagging it at midnight at a Motel 6 in Springfield, Ill. The motel began life under another banner, since it was a cut above the standard cheesy Motel 6 layout. It didn't matter much because we immediately fell into bed and my next conscious experience was of Maria rousting me out of bed at 6 a.m. to get back on the road.
Consequently, we arrived home at 9:15 a.m. to find - wonder of wonders - a tree service crew whacking to pieces the first of the three maple trees that have menaced our house for longer than we've lived here.
If you've been following this tedious saga, you know these three trees belong to the town because they stand in the right-of-way of a dedicated alley that also serves as our driveway. It took us four appearances before the town council over a 12-month period to persuade them that the big maple trees are a threat to our home and a liability to the town.
This afternoon, with only the three trunks standing some 15-20 feet high, it is obvious that our fears were justified. All three had branches that were hollow and rotten and ready to snap if subjected to enough wind.
The south side of our house is getting more sunshine than it's seen since the 1940s, but the threat of tree limbs smashing our house, our cars, our motorcycles or ourselves is gone. Likewise, the roosting place for hundreds of birds that showered birdshit on our cars and our neighbors' cars is gone. They will not be missed.
The guy wielding the chainsaw from the bucket truck told us our roof is missing a lot of shingles and is down to the tarpaper around the chimney, so I need to start calling roofers before that problem gets any worse.
Tim and Linda showed us a splendid time during our sojourn in the Colorado high country. We roamed all over Park County, surmounted Weston Pass, dined on filet mignon at Buena Vista, photographed buffalo and fishermen on Tarryall Road and spent the Fourth of July at the Guffey Chicken Fly.
This was the 19th year for this whimsical event in which participants pay $5 each use a bathroom plunger to launch a chicken from a rural mailbox mounted some 12 feet above the ground. The object of the game is to see whose chicken travels the farthest before landing. I think the best distance of the day was something like 42 feet. While chickens don't soar, they can avoid dropping like a pumpkin by flapping their wings to slow their descent.
The animal rights types are presumably appeased by the fact that the rural mailbox is lined with red velvet.
One of the officials wore a PETA t-shirt, but rather than People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, it bore the words, "People intersted in Eating Tasty Animals."
Nevertheless, I saw no serious mistreatment of the chickens. The all seemed none the worse for their startling ejection from the mailbox into empty space. I wouldn't try this with penguins, but chickens seem to handle it just fine.
While we were in Colorado, I spent about 12 hours editing photos from the wedding we shot a week earlier and finally got them posted to our website. Even though I color calibrated our Sony VAIO notebook computer's screen with a Spyder, I worried that the images might not be spot on. Now that I've had a chance to view them on my desktop computer's CRT, I can see some room for improvement in a few, but on balance they're fine.
Even so, I think it would be a mistake to try any serious Photoshop work on the VAIO. It's good for viewing and sorting pictures, but isn't as accurate as a CRT display.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Back in the High Country again

I’m back in the High Country again, sitting on the couch at Tim and Linda’s Alma, Colo., chalet and gazing out the sliding glass patio doors at clouds gathering over Hoosier Pass.
We rolled in at 7:30 last evening, fresh from a 2,000-mile loop that took us through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Utah again and finally Colorful Colorado.
We’ve had Texas barbecue in Amarillo, green chili breakfast burritos in Tucumcari, enchiladas in Moab and huevos rancheros for breakfast this morning in Fairplay, Colo.
Maria’s brother and sister-in-law lived briefly in a Navajo community south of Farmington, NM and we made an accidental pilgrimage there when we missed a turn on our way to Monument Valley. It’s a bleak, sun-blasted, poverty-stricken place called Newcomb and I’m astonished they could stay there more than a week, much less the few months they were there while Deb attempted to teach special needs Indian kids.
We were up before dawn yesterday morning to photograph the Monument Valley sunrise after a pleasant night in our tent at Goulding’s Monument Valley Campground. They had wireless internet (WiFi) at the campground and I was checking my e-mail on a bench outside the campstore when a French tourist with a laptop computer inquired as to whether I had “wee fee.” Maria was completely baffled, thinking it was some French term, but I puzzled it out quickly and then helped him get online.
I spent much of this morning editing photos from a wedding we shot last Saturday. It was our first paying wedding and we learned a lot, not the least of which was that we’re better than we thought.
Now, if we can just book some weddings at a serious rate of pay, we can pay some bills and justify all of this expensive photo equipment.